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Leonardo DiCaprio's Huge Carbon Footprint

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Leonardo DiCaprio recently won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in The Revenant. I saw the movie, and to my layman’s eye it certainly seemed like an Oscar-worthy performance. I was rooting for him to win, as was, it seems, most of America. His victory reportedly set a social-media record, with 440,000 posts in about a minute to become the single-most Tweeted minute during an Oscar telecast.

While I applauded his victory, I took exception to part of his acceptance speech. Here is an excerpt:

“Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this.”

The problem isn’t the message. I believe we are engaging in a dangerous experiment by dumping ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I don’t think there is an easy fix to the problem, but I agree with his characterization that it is an urgent threat.

The problem is that DiCaprio himself is one of those “big polluters,” which diminishes his moral authority to lecture on the risk of climate change. While DiCaprio has donated a lot of his time, money, and effort into raising awareness on the issue — as he did in his Oscar speech — he unnecessarily hands ammunition to his opponents with his own wasteful consumption. For years his critics have noted his extensive usage of private jets to travel around the globe for both business and pleasure. In 2014 he famously rented the world’s fifth largest yacht, owned by a UAE oil tycoon, to watch the World Cup in Brazil. In case you are wondering, neither the jets nor the yacht run on solar power.

But DiCaprio has claimed to be a “CarbonNeutral citizen.” What does that mean? A London-based company called Future Forests (which registered CarbonNeutral as a brand) worked with DiCaprio to estimate that his annual carbon dioxide emissions are 11 tons per year. With that information in hand, they planted thousands of trees, creating The Leonardo DiCaprio Forest in Mexico, to offset his carbon dioxide emissions.

Don’t get me wrong. I think planting forests is a great idea. But the notion that DiCaprio’s carbon emissions are 11 tons per year is nonsense. According to the World Bank, per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are about 19 tons per year. That’s of course an average, and rich people who take private jets and vacation on yachts have much higher carbon emissions than average.

In fact, a 2014 Daily Mail article noted, “DiCaprio took at least 20 trips across the nation and around the world this year alone – including numerous flights from New York to Los Angeles and back, a ski vacation to the French Alps, another vacation to the French Riviera, flights to London and Tokyo to promote his film Wolf of Wall Street, two trips to Miami and trip to Brazil to watch the World Cup.” The article further noted that if he had taken commercial airlines for all of those flights, the carbon dioxide emissions from those flights alone would amount to 44 tons. (Note: The article says “million tons”, but that’s clearly an error as a round-trip coast-to-coast commercial airliner generates about 2 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per person). But many of those flights were on private jets, which the article notes can have up to 37 times the personal carbon emissions of commercial flights.

Add to the fact that he owns several homes and vacations frequently on diesel-burning yachts, and the 11 ton per year number is clearly wishful thinking.

Now I don’t want to make this entirely one-sided, as DiCaprio is clearly passionate about the issue. He may be getting through to the masses, in which case he may be far more than offsetting his own carbon emissions. In the grand scheme, he is probably doing more good than harm.  He drives a Prius. He has been known to ride bikes around New York. He advocates for environmental charities and electric cars.

But that’s not the point. If you really believe that climate change is the “most urgent threat facing our entire species”, why undermine your message? I suspect he is torn between living the good life of a Hollywood movie star, and sacrificing in order to set a good example and leverage his message. I have encountered some of his defenders who attempt to justify his emissions by suggesting that it is simply too much to expect for someone like him to take commercial air transportation. But really, we can all make excuses for why we need to emit the carbon we emit. It all comes down to convenience. It’s just easier and more convenient to hop in a car and go somewhere than it is to walk or bike there. That’s why it’s important for people who advocate change to set an exemplary example.

Now I have seen an entirely different point of view on DiCaprio’s carbon footprint that argues that he isn’t a hypocrite, because he isn’t asking for individuals to sacrifice. David Roberts at Vox argued this point in Rich climate activist Leonardo DiCaprio lives a carbon-intensive lifestyle, and that’s (mostly) fine. I generally find Roberts’ arguments to be well-argued and convincing, but I am going to disagree with him on this one. This defense of DiCaprio (which is similar to how some environmental organizations have defended him) will be the topic of my next article.

Link to Original Article: Leonardo DiCaprio’s Huge Carbon Footprint

Photo Credit: David Brossard via Flickr

Robert Rapier's picture

Thank Robert for the Post!

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Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Mar 23, 2016 11:33 pm GMT

Was the private jet fueled with biofuel? It’s now available for jets. I saw GEVO stock rise 37% yesterday; maybe they finally got ASTM certification… Anyway, I would avoid framing climate change action as one of sacrifice, but rather encouraging alternatives.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 24, 2016 11:35 pm GMT

Was the private jet fueled with biofuel? It’s now available for jets. I saw GEVO stock rise 37% yesterday; maybe they finally got ASTM certification… Anyway, I would avoid framing climate change action as one of sacrifice, but rather encouraging alternatives.

Robert Rapier's picture
Robert Rapier on Mar 23, 2016 11:36 pm GMT

What would we prefer them to do about AGW? Nothing at all?

I think I made that clear. I would prefer him to set an example. Don’t rail about how our consumption of fossil fuels is killing the planet, and then consume far more than your own share.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Mar 23, 2016 11:37 pm GMT

You did make it clear. Sorry, I should have made it clear that I directed that comment at those who would judge DiCaprio to be a hypocrite, not at you.

By the way, I forgot to mention that I enjoyed your post, as always.

I guess my point is that it is much more credible for people living a high-energy lifestyle to rail about how our consumption of fossil fuels is killing the planet if at the same time they point to a solution to the problem which does not depend on crimping our individual consumption of energy. Nuclear is that solution. If DiCaprio would have said that he supports the nuclear option, then that would have insulated him at once from all accusations of hypocricy.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Mar 23, 2016 11:38 pm GMT

I would say that DiCaprio and other superstars shouldn’t be bashed for calling for a solution to AGW. What would we prefer them to do about AGW? Nothing at all? This is unhelpful.

But I would also say that people like DiCaprio should use their celebrity to promote right thinking about solving AGW. In that space, they can really do some good.

One of the most essential pieces of right thinking which the public urgently needs to be brought up to speed about is the nuclear option. The public has to be informed that the nuclear option is real and bona fide. The public has to be told that they need to activily embrace nuclear, or else this option will not be available to do what it must to solve AGW.

While people like DiCaprio are doing little more than adding their voice to the chorus of scientists and activists who rightly call for a solution to AGW, people like DiCaprio would even more good by helping to seed and nurture public acceptance of the nuclear option as a sufficient and available solution to AGW. It would even allow them to enjoy their wealth, because the success of the nuclear option does not depend on people sacrificing a comfortable way of life. The nuclear option is powerful enough to let DiCaprio and the rest of us enjoy life as we have done, even while AGW is solved within a matter of decades.

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